Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Project Homeless Connect

A community can only be as strong as them members who participate and play a role in it's survival.  Once again it is time for Project Homeless Connect. For two days, the Samaritan House Administration Center will be converted into a massive base camp for numerous services offered to the community. PHC event seeks to offer local homeless with much needed assistance spanning several categories. Right now, our biggest need is for people to volunteer. If you are interested in helping, please call Sean at 758-5445.
Project Homeless Connect is an international movement to end homelessness which has been replicated in over 200 cities including Missoula and Billings. The purpose is to help eliminate barriers that prevent homeless people from gaining access to aid. Key characteristics of Project Homeless Connect include: Hospitality, Immediacy, Partnership, Community and Excellence.

The Interagency Council on Homelessness says this of the event, "Project Homeless Connect is equal parts welcoming homeless neighbors into the life of the community, changing the way resources are accessed, and achieving quantifiable results for the people experiencing homelessness."

Here are the details:Dates & Time: June 7th, 11:00 am - 6:00 pm
June 8th, 9:00 am - 1:00 pm
Location: Samaritan House Administrative CenterAddress: 1110 2nd St. West
Kalispell, MT 59901

Services Available include Pet Services, Medical Help, Educational Help, Financial Education, SNAP (Food Stamps), Medicaid, Social Security Application Info, TANF Applications, Healthy Montana Kids, CHIPS, Office of Public Assistance, Food, Healthcare, Childcare, Housing Counseling, Legal Services, Mental Health Case Management, Literacy Help, Personal Hygiene Products, Clothing, Haircuts, Veterans Services, Senior Services, Job Services, Transportation, Assistance towards Photo IDs, Gas Vouchers, Cell Phone Minutes and a free warm lunch will be served both days.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

In Memorium.

Today is Memorial Day. The roots of this tradition can be traced back to just after the War Between the States, when it was called Decoration Day. Different regions of the country had their own unique observations to honor their dead soldiers and eventually a national day of remembrance was established in the name of national homogenization. While this might seem a bit bland or impersonal, think of the money it saved people who were forced to send multiple letters or cards on multiple days when stamps were 2 cents apiece at the turn of the 20th century!

 Anyway... today is a time to remember those who have died in service of our country. As Americans, we love to remember people. We have musical tributes at the end of the Academy Awards as the smiling faces of deceased actors flash before us. Newspapers and magazines dedicate stories and covers to those who have died and cyber space has allowed us to establish entire sites to people we choose to commemorate (my biggest fear is to end up as a hash tag).

We lay wreaths on the sides of the road and I've even seen vehicles with messages dedicated to friends and family members that have presumably left this life. But what does it mean to really remember some one? Can we slap a bumpersticker on the back of the ol' Prius and call it good? We say the families of those who passed are 'in our thoughts or prayers,' but what does that mean besides sounding very impressive when we say it in the presence of others?

 Lots of things are in my thoughts... the environment, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the next Pearl Jam album, war, the economy... Thinking about something is not the same as remembering it. Remembering involves more than not forgetting, it entails recollection; it places us in the midst of a prior experience or situation. When we remember something, we are often transported back to that event and it has the potential to become momentarily real.

 So, how does this translate to Memorial Day? Am I suggesting that we should ignore the veterans around us if we have never served in the military? Abandon all pretense of ceremonial honor? Go out and rent a slew of Jane Fonda flicks?

 Nope. But I would love it if we actually transcended the niceties of pretending to remember and moved into the reality of actual remembrance. Have a genuine conversation with a veteran and not only thank them, but talk with them. Allow them the opportunity to share their lives and stories. I would wager a guess that most of us know at least one veteran. If you don't, please feel free to stop by our shelter where we have an entire program dedicated to men and women who served in the military.

 Remember those who died by interacting with those who are still with us. Take them out to lunch or to the store or to a bar-b-que. Spend time listening as well as 'thanking.' And here is the kicker, while it's nice to have an entire day dedicated to this idea, we can actually do this any time of the year. February works just as well May.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Wonderful World of Hobos

A few nights ago I was speaking with a friend and they casually used the word “hobo” in reference to our homeless people. My initial reaction was to be offended because that always seems to be the best way to justify self-righteousness. How dare this uninformed homelessphobe ( I am officially coining this word) spout his hate-fueled speech in my presence! As he continued talking my internal dialogue kicked in and I began to ask myself if ‘hobo’ was even a derogatory term after all. What did it truly mean? My friend’s words faded into the background and my thoughts shifted as this new quest skipped to the front of my mind. I had to unearth the genesis of this ambiguous term so I could know if my rage was warranted or if I was overreacting. Especially since I never overreact.
The most credible sources show the term Hobo cropping up with semi-regularity around the early 1890s. It was thought to have been a conglomeration of the words, “Ho, Beau!” which was a common greeting or reference in rail yards around America at this time. This makes sense and actually is much less offensive than I wanted it to be. I was ready to start a campaign of political correctness or protest against the Man or maybe just Occupy something. But, ehh… This definition certainly takes the sinister equation out of the element.
I discovered there was a clear distinction between hobos and tramps, which were considered lazy and had more of a deviant reputation. Hobos were renowned for their dependable work ethic and dedication to finishing a job before hopping on the train and moving to the next locale because jobs were scarce. Please don’t think I am trying to paint a revisionist history for railroad transients. Were all hobos kindly hearted men who wanted nothing but an honest day’s work? I doubt it. Any time a generalization is made there are variables that need to be considered. My point, though, is that the origin of the word was decent and had a solid connotation that denoted hard work and resilience.
My friend was not being so kind in his characterization. The whole ordeal made me consider how we refer to others is often based on a preconception that is (usually) wrong. I’m not going to get on a soapbox and start sermonizing, but if our base perceptions about a person or group are wrong, then how can we truly understand their perspective or situation? Take some time over the Memorial Day weekend to reassess your own beliefs and perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised that you have misjudged certain people.
Of course, revelation is the easy part.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why Clichés Will Destroy the World.

I hate clichés.

Perhaps not in the same way I detest racism or the Miami Heat or long division, but it’s close. I do not like them because they attempt to encapsulate unique situations and reduce them to generic universal babblings. Instead of accurately or intimately describing a situation, clichés lazily paint a broad picture for the sake of time. Some of my least favorites…

Actions speak louder than words. No they don’t unless the action is actually talking, then the phrase should be ‘talking speaks louder than words,’ which makes no sense.

Back seat driver. Sorry, but this is impossible at worst, and a huge safety hazard at best.

The proof’s in the pudding. Um, actually those are called ingredients.

Anyway, I hope you can begin to feel at least a small smattering of the ire that wells up within me when these trite slogans work their way into my range of hearing. I recently attended a conference at Samaritan House that sought to address the issue of homelessness in Kalispell. Being the cynic that I am, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would most likely hear some valuable information riddled with generically overambitious sayings amounting to the verbal equivalent of a Kardashian: nice to look at on the outside but lacking depth in other areas. If the primary issue was to discuss ending homelessness, then how could some of the best clichés in existence not be avoided?

I have been wrong so many times in my life I once spent a week doing the opposite of my first reaction any time I was faced with a decision. Well, those actions ended up being wrong, too, which sent me tail-spinning into quite the existential crisis. This conference ended up becoming another notch on my ‘belt of utter incorrectness.’ There were no easy answers given and the data provided and discussions that ensued were practical and insightful.

The participants wrestled with the concept of the community’s role in addressing, and ultimately, ending homelessness. This is such a grand idea that oozes benevolence and sounds dreamy in a Davey Jones sort of way, but how realistic is it to think that homelessness can actually be eradicated? I kept waiting for the easy answers and regurgitated responses to pour forth, but I was happily disappointed in what truly transpired. There was a collection of a few different organizations from around Kalispell and we all were led in a genuinely productive conversation that ended by raising more questions than answers. And isn’t that the way it should be?

Instead of patting ourselves on the back for some recent successes, we examined the situation in our community and realized that positive change can only occur when the social services organizations work together (think The Avengers without Tony Stark’s snarky comments) to supplement one another’s strengths and weaknesses. It is going to take humility, resolve, and dedication, but if we can recognize that homelessness is a social problem not dependent solely upon the individual, then we can begin to accurately assess the situation and work toward a solution. We will need the help of businesses and individuals and many of you in the community, but we are willing to do our part. As we continue on this journey we will ask much of our neighboring organizations, you, and ourselves. Please ask yourself what it means to eliminate homelessness and how you might play a role in this task?

My guess is that it will be much more than a cliché.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Flathead Homeless Assessing and Planning Conference

Samaritan House will be hosting the Montana Homeless Performance Assessment and Planning Conference on Tuesday, May 22, 2012 10AM-4PM. We encourage anyone interested in the issue of homelessness in Montana to please attend. The event will be held at the Samaritan House Administration Center located at 1110 2nd Street West in Kalispell. Call 257-5801 for more information.

The most successful efforts to eliminate homelessness happen when a wide array of public and private programs collaborate at the community-level to measure and assess their progress and identify what works best in the community.

To help establish ongoing local assessment and planning efforts, the Montana Continuum of Care and the Montana Department of Health and Human Services are sponsoring a workshop using actual performance data from federally funded programs in our community. These programs include transitional housing, rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing and while they constitute only a portion of overall homeless resources and programs, they provide a valuable starting point for continued assessment and planning.

The workshop is designed to build an understanding of how data can be used in planning an effective homeless services system in the community. A model and planning exercise are used that is based on years of experience by other successful communities but each community is encouraged to establish its own assessment and planning process using locally adopted measures and standards.

The workshop will be conducted by Katharine Gale, an independent consultant with 20 years of experience in the fields of homelessness and special needs housing providing a variety of services to national and local public and non-profit agencies. Recent projects include research on prevention targeting, development of multi-agency prevention and rapid re-housing systems and facilitating the adoption of system-wide outcome measures for homeless programs.

Sponsored By:  Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What I Learned at the Paint Store.

Sometimes I am completely out of my element. This usually happens at Monster Truck shows, construction sites, beauty pageants, and any type of sport where I must compete with 19 year olds. Today I can add a new notch on my belt of uncomfortable situations: paint stores. I know absolutely nothing about paint and all the varying degrees of sheen and applications and tools to get the paint from the small can onto the large wall.

I found myself waiting while the gentleman at the store graciously mixed the colors to produce what I wanted. This was after he explained the difference between flat and semi-gloss. I could have just looked at the very effective chart hanging on the wall but I completely missed it and he was too kind to treat me as I probably would have treated others if I was in a similar situation that demanded stating the obvious to someone as dense as me. Anyway, while my five gallons of semi-gloss Ebony were being mixed in some crazy box that rattled and shook like a Mayan prophecy, I had some time to kill.

I quickly decided against strolling up and down the aisles pretending to understand what was on the shelves. I was really worried someone might ask me a question to which I would have no response but to make something up and then run out the door. After a few seconds of surveying the store I noticed a group of older gentlemen sitting at a table talking while they enjoyed the store's free coffee and popcorn. None of these men were familiar to me and I knew nothing of their lives and histories. They laughed and carried on in a way that implied they cared about one another and they chose to spend the morning together alternating between solving the problems of Kalispell and trying to figure out the Griz depth chart for the fall.

The whole scene reminded me of the value and importance of selected community. Spending time with people we choose to be with. We spend so much of our lives in situations where we interact with people because we have to. Jobs, recreational activities, family, places of worship and meditation... We often have no say over who we spend a significant chunk of time around. It makes the times that we can be selective all the more valuable. I have a sister whom I love but there is no way I would want to drive across country with her. However, if the variable changes and one of my friends would call me up and need me to embark on a transcontinental voyage, then I'm down. The issue is my freedom to enjoy the situation because it is not forced. I have no say in who my sister is but I wanted this guy as a friend.

The more I watched these men from a distance, the greater my thoughts drifted toward many of our residents at Samaritan House. The eclectic natures of their backgrounds and conglomeration of their distinct personalities are often put to the test because they are experiencing a time in their lives where they do not have the luxury of choosing to coexist with others. Many time friendships between them form but there is always an undercurrent simmering below the surface that emphasizes these men and women are together because they have to be, not because they choose to be. Imagine spending your life, as an adult, having to interact without the benefit of a selected community.

Friendship is so normal to most of us, that we hardly give it a second thought. Whether we have numeorus chums or only a few buddies, we can often take thes epeople for granted because to think of a lif without them is foreign to us. These relationships cahllenge and encorage us. They help us become stronger and better suited to deal with life on many different levels. If these were taken away from us we would cease to function the same way. A communal support network is one more thing we need to be thankful for.

Sometimes the needs of our residents are nowhere near as visible as the paint drying on my walls.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Billy Joel and the Agony of Awareness

Today is Saturday and I typically do not work at Samaritan House on this most hallowed day of the week. Since the temperature is morphing into something that periodically resembles summer, I wanted to take advantage of this window of wonderful weather and accomplish some yard work. Well, this didn't take as long as I anticipated and by noon I had run out of lawn jockeys to polish and weeds to pluck. That's when I grabbed (literally) my 10 year old son and compelled him (with no subtlety whatsoever) to give Skyrim a rest and head to the office with me for a little while.

I abandoned my 'Saturday no work' policy because I am moving to a new office and was feeling extremely motivated to finish this task before Monday. I've managed to hook my son on Billy Joel so our journey included Piano Man and Downeaster Alexa but not Uptown Girl because I still have some principles. It was going to be a tenuous day fraught with a little office reorganization, some father/son bonding, and a trip to DQ. As my son gets older, I notice the natural separation beginning to take place and I enjoy these times we can hang out and be carefree for a while.

We arrived at the shelter and cleared out the room that currently housed my official looking office stuff. The goal was to transport everything to my new digs in the administration center just a block and a half away. I checked in with the shelter staff worker to see how things were going and she said it had been a great day. My son has come to work with me quite a few times so he is acclimated to the (un)official sights and sounds of the shelter. The residents get a kick out of seeing him and he understands that each person he meets deserves respect and dignity. He's a good-natured boy and genuinely sees the best in all people.

After loading the truck and moving everything to my new office we were ready to bolt when we ran into one of the residents who is a Veteran of the Korean War. We chit chatted for a bit and then my son, Billy Joel, and myself were on the 93 bypass quicker that you could sing My Life. Usually, my son is very (VERY) talkative but by the second roundabout he still hadn't said anything so I asked him what was on his mind. He told me he didn't understand how a Veteran could be homeless; this made no sense to him. We talked about the larger issue of homelessness and how some people end up this way because they make some bad choices, but many people are homeless because of situations beyond their control. This was certainly the case with the gentleman we had spoken to only minutes before. He wasn't an addict or criminal. He had never done anything to deserve his predicament, but nevertheless he was homeless.

As an adult, I've learned to implement coping mechanisms that allow me to disconnect form certain situations and realities if I feel that I might have a hard time. Grown ups have a really great knack for acting very childish and ignoring obvious problems engulfing everything around them. Children seem to lack this filter and are troubled by things adults have been able to rationalize and label as 'that's just the way the world works.' We accept situations that no person should have to experience as common reality while 10 year olds get agitated, unnerved, and upset these situations exist.

I was proud of my son today because we turned off the music and talked the rest of the way home. He prompted me to remember that being aware of a problem is not the same as working toward a solution. He reminded me that knowledge without heart is nothing more than cynicism no matter how I dress it up.